Breast Cancer Radiation Treatment May be Linked to Higher Heart Risk

Breast Cancer Radiation Treatment May be Linked to Higher Heart RiskNew research has found that women with breast cancer on the left side of their bodies and who have been treated with radiation may be at a higher risk for developing a narrowing of the arteries that pump blood to the heart, according to HealthDay.

The study, conducted by a team of Swedish researchers, found that the chances of developing moderately narrowed coronary arteries were more than four times higher in women who were being treated for left-sided breast cancers with radiation, compared to patients with right-sided breast cancer who were also treated with radiation therapy.

The odds for severe narrowing on the left side were more than seven times greater than treatment on the right side. The study was published in the December 27 issue of the Journal of Clinical Oncology.

"We suggest that the coronary arteries be regarded as organs at risk in radiation therapy, and that every effort be made to avoid radiation dose to the coronary arteries," wrote study authors led by Dr. Greger Nilsson, of the department of oncology, radiology and clinical immunology at Uppsala University Hospital.

According to the National Cancer Institute, radiation or chemotherapy works by killing cells that are growing uncontrollably. However, the process also can harm healthy cells, which causes the side effects, and likely contributed to the higher arterial damage in left-sided breast cancer patients.

New cancer treatments may help to keep these side effects from occurring.

For example, HealthDay reports, newer radiation techniques may help protect the heart and arteries. Such techniques included rapid bursts of radiation only when patients are taking deep breaths, as the movement of a deep breath brings arteries away from the breast and chest wall, keeping it away from the radiation.

But older methods continue to show possible damage to the heart and arteries. The study assessed Swedish women who were diagnosed with breast cancer between 1970 and 2003. Of the 8,190 women studied, 199 showed signs of significant coronary artery disease.

"It's important to understand that with all treatments, there are risks," Bernik said. "And, we know that this is one of the risks with radiation of left-sided breast cancer. Women need to keep in mind that they're at increased risk of coronary events and need to follow up with their doctor going forward."